Have you ever been, say, at a party, and during a conversation someone admitted that they were not on Facebook. And then everyone else—after picking their jaws off the floor—celebrated and was even envious of their decision to not have sold their soul to Zuckerberg and Co. “I wish I wasn’t on Facebook, either.” “Stay off of it. It’s a sinkhole.” Etc. Etc.
Probably like everyone who logs on to Facebook regularly, I have thought about quitting the platform on more than one occasion. For all the good it offers, there are an equal number of negatives. For all the high school friends I now have a direct way to connect with (though I rarely do), I could definitely live without the political insanity of “friends.” For all the interesting articles that my list of contacts share, there are not a few arguments I would like to leave behind. And for all the connection I have to colleagues all over the world, there are good reasons to believe that Facebook has not and will not protect my privacy. So, should I stay or should I go?
After reading this article, I wonder if my mere participation in this medium is wise. After all, I am, by using the medium, offering a tacit endorsement of a platform that has supplanted—for many—the very kinds of community that human beings need. If an unexamined life is not worth living and if Facebook in reality only offers a surface-level view and understanding of life, does it actually do harm to spend time on it?
The fact is that I don’t believe human beings were really meant to connect through media like this, and these are not the kinds of connections that are ultimately life-giving and joyful. Sure, you could argue that we have evolved socially to relate in this way, but I am not convinced our nature has so radically changed in the last 20 years to justify this as anything but an addition to an already existent healthy community. In other words, it is no replacement.
There is a reason that many of us log onto Facebook with a sense of dread as much as anticipation: some cute pictures of our friends’ new baby may await us, but so will the pressure to care as much about our friends as pot legalization, social justice, or belief in God. Facebook is an anxiety factory.
So what do I really use Facebook for, and what will I lose if I leave it? For starters, it is a lazy and convenient way to keep in touch with friends and family. I hope to promote my podcast/radio show and articles I write—like this one (no, the irony is not lost on me). I enjoy meeting new people of a like mindset. I enjoy knowing that I can, even if I won’t, connect with long lost friends. I enjoy a good meme from time to time. I would lose all of the potential tied in with all of those connections.
What would I gain? Well, I suspect I would gain a freedom and an encouragement to invest even more in relationships that are close to me, relationships that are really the only significantly important ones, anyway. I would gain a bliss of ignorance that comes with not knowing what my friends think about this or that issue. I would gain the freedom of not feeling compelled to have an opinion about every political or social issue of the day. I would enjoy a slower pace of life, having earned the ability to shrug a lot more often than clench a fist. I would know who my best friends were because they are the people I’d actually keep in touch with.
In a world flooded with blogs, podcasts, and memes, would my publication on my page of my points-of-view be a real loss to the world? Of course not. But would it be a loss to me? Yes, to a degree it would. Because part of what gives any life purpose is the sense that we have some measure of influence, that our voice is heard and appreciated by someone. But even that is a modern luxury. Most people have lived without a voice or platform, without followers and likes. Do I think less of them? Do you?
What is scary about leaving Facebook is all of the potential that will be lost. I know there will be potential “friends” I will not make, and I will be effectively committing myself to a much smaller sphere of influence, accessible mostly by older technology. Social media offers our egos the sufficient battleground to prove our value. But more often, it becomes a mirror of our normalcy, and a place where those who don’t mind conflict frustrate those who would normally avoid it.
Am I ready to give up on that potential? Am I ready to commit only to local, in-person communities? Am I ready to give up on a wealth of information, even if that means sifting a bit of good from a whole lot more bad? In all honesty, not yet. But like those at the party, I’m a bit envious of those who are not faced with that question because they never joined Facebook to begin with.